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Anthony found not guilty in daughter’s death

Convicted of lying to law enforcement

By Lizette Alvarez
New York Times / July 6, 2011

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ORLANDO - Casey Anthony, the young mother whose seeming heartlessness at the disappearance of her daughter transfixed America for three years, was found not guilty yesterday of killing 2-year-old Caylee Marie.

After nearly six weeks of testimony, a jury of seven women and five men decided that Anthony did not murder Caylee by dosing her with chloroform, suffocating her with duct tape, and dumping her in a wooded area, as prosecutors claimed. They did, however, find her guilty of lesser charges, including providing false information to law enforcement officers. The jury did not ask to review any evidence.

When the verdict was read, Anthony, 25, who faced a possible death sentence, cried.

The verdict vindicates the defense, which argued from the start that Caylee drowned accidentally in the family swimming pool and that the death was concealed by her panicked grandfather, George Anthony, and his daughter.

It also drove home just how circumstantial the prosecution’s case proved to be. Forensic evidence was tenuous, and no witnesses tied Anthony to her daughter’s death. Investigators found no trace of DNA or solid signs of chloroform or decomposition inside the trunk of Anthony’s car, where prosecutors said Anthony stashed Caylee before disposing of her body.

The prosecution was also hurt because nobody knew how Caylee died; her body was too decomposed to pinpoint a cause of death.

All of this allowed Jose Baez, Anthony’s lawyer, to infuse enough reasonable doubt in jurors’ minds to get Anthony acquitted of murder.

“They throw enough against the wall and see what sticks,’’ Baez told the jury, “right down to the cause of death.’’

Caylee was last seen June 16, 2008. Her remains were found six months later in a wooded area near the Anthony home. Despite her daughter’s disappearance, Anthony failed to report Caylee missing for 31 days and created a tangle of lies, including that a baby sitter kidnapped Caylee, to cover up the absence.

The defense conceded Anthony’s lies but said they happened for one reason: She had been sexually abused by her father and had been coached to lie her entire life.

“I told you she was a liar the first day,’’ Baez told the jury.

Despite a vivid portrait of Anthony’s seemingly callous and deceitful behavior after Caylee’s disappearance, jurors decided that the leap from uncaring mother to killer proved too much.

Prosecutors argued that Anthony killed her child so she could carouse with her boyfriend, go clubbing, and live the “bella vita’’ - beautiful life - as her tattoo, done after Caylee’s disappearance, proclaimed.

“Whose life was better without Caylee?’’ Linda Drane Burdick, one of the prosecutors, asked jurors. “That’s the only question you need to answer in considering why Caylee Marie Anthony was left on the side of the road dead.’’

With that, Drane Burdick ended her closing statement with a dramatic flourish, leaving behind a split screen image: One side was a photograph of the tattoo, the other was of a smiling Anthony partying with friends after Caylee’s death.

One prosecutor, Jeff Ashton, called it absurd that Anthony’s father, a former homicide detective, would find Caylee dead in the swimming pool and, rather than call 911, cover up the drowning, wrap dead Caylee’s face with duct tape, and dump her body.

“It is a trip down a rabbit hole into a bizarre world where men who love their granddaughters find them drowned and do nothing,’’ Ashton said. “Where men who love their granddaughters take an accident, a completely innocent act, and make it look like a murder for no reason.’’

With Caylee’s grandparents in the back of the courtroom, prosecutors spoke forcefully about the pain the grandparents felt when they realized Caylee was missing and their daughter was the chief suspect. Anthony’s father grew so despondent after the death that he attempted suicide in 2009, leaving behind an eight-page suicide note.

George Anthony, who had testified tearfully during the trial, denied abusing his daughter Casey and denied finding Caylee floating in the pool.

As for motive, prosecutors said Caylee’s murder was hastened by the fact she was beginning to string together words and would soon be able to reveal her mother’s lies.

Prosecutors also used jailhouse recordings of Anthony and photographs of her reveling with friends to show she was clearly not grieving for a daughter who had supposedly drowned.

Baez did little to bolster his initial defense during the trial, but he successfully hammered away at the relatively weak forensic evidence.

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